Am I Being Sexually Harassed at Work?
Sexual harassment is illegal and should not be tolerated in any workplace. It can cause serious damage to your productivity, morale, and self-esteem and can lead to the individual alleged to have harassed you losing their job, career, and good reputation.
Though sexual harassment may be obvious to other people, it can be difficult to determine if the unwanted behavior that you have experienced at work is simply innocent, albeit unfortunate, workplace behavior or, in fact, sexual harassment.
So, how can you know if you are being sexually harassed at work?
There are two main categories of conduct that constitute sexual harassment:
- Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
- Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment pertains to someone in a position of authority over you denying or awarding you benefits or opportunities on the basis of sexual requests you will or will not fulfill. This can include:
- Awarding or denying you preferred work placements
- Hiring or firing you
- Promoting or demoting you
- Giving you a positive or negative performance review
- Or anything else related to job benefits or opportunities
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
Hostile work environment sexual harassment refers to conduct at work that makes it unreasonably difficult for you to do your job or otherwise creates an extremely uncomfortable or hostile work environment. Harassing jokes, comments, or other behavior can create a hostile work environment, even if they are not directed towards you.
The offender may be an individual of the same or different gender and/or an individual of any rank and position in your company. Furthermore, you may not only be sexually harassed by an individual who is employed by the same company that employs you, you may also be sexually harassed by an individual such as a contractor, consultant, delivery person, vendor, and even a customer.
In addition, you may be sexually harassed anywhere that you represent your employer. This includes, but is not limited to, company parties, trade shows, sales conferences, and charity functions.
Some examples of behavior that may be considered sexual harassment include:
- Flirting that is persistent and unwanted
- Catcalls and suggestive whistling
- Making sexually suggestive facial expressions
- Derogatory comments regarding your sexual orientation
- Jokes and comments about your physical attributes or pregnancy
- Unwanted shoulders massages
- Excessive hugging
- Gossiping or discussing sexual topics so that it is overheard by others
- Sharing sexually explicit or pornographic material
- Posting or sending sexually explicit messages via text, email, or social networks
- Making derogatory, gender-based comments, such as “a women belong in the home”.
The courts have adopted the “reasonable person standard” when addressing accusations of sexual harassment. Put another way, courts will consider whether or not a reasonable person would find the conduct offensive? Most sexually-charged conduct that is unwanted and occurs in the workplace meets this standard.
The easiest way to know if you are being harassed at work is to ask yourself if you have been the recipient of any of the behaviors listed above and if so, consult with an experienced employment law attorney who can advise you further.